Tattooing A to Z: Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers was born in 1905, in North Carolina. He spent much of his childhood moving from one cotton town to the next, as the family sought employment in the dehumanizing conditions of the cotton mills.

In 1926, aged 21, Rogers got his first tattoo from Chet Cain, a tattooist who worked with one of the traveling circuses. He later bought a tattoo kit from E.J. Miller and he decided to learn how to tattoo, traveling with the carnival and working on the sideshow. As well as learning how to tattoo, Rogers trained hard in acrobatics. He was also very careful with his body: he never smoked, drank coffee or touched alcohol.

Paul Rogers

In 1932, he worked on his first sideshow in Greenville, South Carolina. Later that year, Rogers joined the “John T. Rae Happyland Show“, where he met his wife Helen, who was working there as a snake charmer.

In 1942, Rogers set up his first tattoo shop in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1945 he began a five years association with Cap Coleman of Norfolk, Virginia. Coleman was already a legend in the tattoo world and Paul said it was like a dream come true to be invited to work with Coleman. Paul stayed in Norfolk until 1950, when the city fathers shut down tattooing and he decided to move to Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Paul Rogers, watercolour by Pepe
Paul Rogers, watercolour by Pepe

While working in Jacksonville, Rogers met Huck Spaulding: they shared a shop giving birth to the now famous “Spaulding and Rogers”, the worldwide known supply business. Rogers only worked in the supply business for two years. He continued tattooing with Spaulding for four years, but then in 1963, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida. In 1970, Rogers and his wife, bought a mobile home and it was there that Rogers focused on building his famous tattoo machines, in a portable 12-by-12-foot tin shack, affectionately called “the Iron Factory“. The now popular slang for calling tattoo machines “irons” derives from Rogers, who first coined the word.

Paul Rogers

In 1988, when Rogers was working on his autobiography, he had a stroke, ironically occurred on the 60th anniversary of the day he began tattooing. He died two years later in a nursing home at age 84.

In 1993, Chuck Eldridge formed a non-profit corporation along with Ed Hardy, Alan Govenar and Henk Schiffmacher (Hanky Panky), the “Paul Rogers Tattoo Research Center” (PRTRC). This organization was the recipient of Rogers entire collection of tattoo memorabilia, flash and photographs.

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